tv FBI Surveillance of White Southern Students-1960s CSPAN August 16, 2018 3:19pm-3:38pm EDT
can't because they're women. and then they're not respected. and the lack of respect between men and women in the marine corps, it's legendary. it's the stuff that male recruits hear in the squad base all the time. male recruits happen be slower that they're women, that they're the "p" word, they should be sent to fourth battalion. it becomes normal to say derringer to things about women. that's sort of the dilemma women have the marine corps when they graduate from boot camp is that's the culture that they're then brought into. >> watch afterwords sunday night at 9:00 p.m. eastern on c-span 2's book tv. american history tv was at the organization of american historians annual meeting in sacramento, california. we spoke with the professor gregg mick emabout the fbi's covert surveillance progam
cointelpro that targeted organizations during the civil rights movement. this is just over 15 minutes. gregg michel is the associate professor in the department of history at the university of texas in san antonio. we're we're going to hear a term cointelpro a lot in our what what is that? >> that stands for counterintelligence program, and it was the name of fbi programming designed to conduct primarily covert operations against organizations and individuals that the fbi deemed to be a threat to domestic or national security. >> why is this important? >> well, for several reasons. this was art fact ifact of the war era when exhumenists in the
united states came under but it quickly suspicion. but it quickly evolved and expanded to include a range of other individuals who the fbi deemed to be potential subverse and that and that included most notably martin luther king and the black civil rights movement, it included white socialists, it included puerto rico an nationa -- puerto rican nationalists and white student acts vifts in the 19 >> >> who was behind it? the individuals or government agents? >> it was j. edgar hoover who was the long time director of the fbi for almost 50 years. and who was extraordinarily focused on identifying communist links or communist individuals who were involved in social justice movements and other political movements in the
united states. >> any concern from president true man, president eisenhower, kennedy, johnson, that individual rights were being discriminated against or taken away based on these eavesdropping devices? >> that largely wasn't part of the conversation until much later on in the latter part of the '60s. and j. edgar hoover himself by the mid-60s began to see -- began to want to curtail and pull back some of the spying and surveillance activity over concerns like that. >> another term or organization, the southern student organizing co what what was that? >> sure. so the southern student organizing committee which it's acronym is soc, a group that i had written about what which was white college students in the south in the 60s. now when most people think about white young people in the south at that time they think klan or people opposed to civil rights.
the people who were involved with soc were actually involved in supporting civil rights and supporting other progressive they causes. they came together to form this organization, it existed on college campuses around the region. and and it was unique because, one, it was white kids in the south and they were native they southerners. they were people who were taking stands which oftentimes conflicted with family members and the communities from which they came and the schools that they attended. >> we are here in sacramento, the organization of american historia you you made a presentation, talk a little bit about that and what questions did you get from fellow historians? >> my presentation was about what the fbi was doing, the type of surveillance and harassment and monitoring of these activists. and and the driving issue really was why did the fbi care about this? why did the fbi care about student groups in the south and some campuses eight, ten, 12
people, why do they care? and part of what i discovered to the fbi any threat was a big threat. the the potential for people to dissent from the established order to cause disruption or chaos was, from the fbi's perspective, very, very troublesome. from hoover from hoover on down there was this emphasis on identifying who these people were and stopping >> them. >> it was a very different time in the 1950s and '60s, a very different fbi? >> yes. it definitely was a very different fbi. one of the interesting things is right now in the political climate we're in there's a large section of the country that feels very bad for the fbi, that the fbi is being maligned in our current era. 50 years ago as this stuff was coming out publicly, it was very different 40 years ago as it was being publicized that the fbi -- these were constitutional violations. essentially essentially spying on people for
their political views. the fbi has evolved, it has changed, it is much more but, this but, this is important, it still continues in many respects to investigate those who are deemed to be threatening. black lives matter is an example that's come under suspicion for harboring or support organize being sympathetic to those who would promote violence. those have largely been spurious type of charges but it remands -- -- remains an fbi concern. >> can you explain who was targeted and the mechanics of how they were target and what devices were used? >> i'll speak to the group i looked at, the southern student organizing committee. hoover asked in one of his memos he wanted to know from one of his agents in the field who were the ring leaders. we want to find out who the ring leaders are and we want to stop and and the ways that they endeavored to do that included such things as sending fake letters to student's parents, anonymous letters in which they
would say to the parents, do now know what your kids are up no t they they would work with local police if there was suspicion of illegal drug use or marijuana use to get police to conduct raids all with the goal of trying to stop anyone who was speaking out. there's one incident i find particularly interesting and revealing in jackson, mississippi, where the fbi took a countercultural magazine, like a free weekly, and provided it to the local newspaper and said, hey, you might want to read this and perhaps write about it. and indeed one of the journalists at that newspaper ran a seven-part series on the front page for a week every day talking about what he learned about these organizations and why they were a threat. and he had received information and coordinated all of this with the local fbi agent. so it was a range of ways that they tried to accomplish this to try to put a damper on it. >> let me take that one step
what what was the government worried what what was the threat from these individuals or the >> that's >> that's a great question, because from our distance of 50 years it doesn't look all that threatening. but but it was the disruption, the chaos, the revolt against control and conformity. you have to remember that in 1968 when cointelpro started against these white students it was right after a mange juror student disruption at columbia university in new york. it was not long after the free speech movement had swept the california -- university of california campus in berkeley. great concern that that was going to happen in florida, at the university of florida, or at a school like ferman university, a small school in south carolina or the university of virginia that this would infect these students and they would rebel and become unmanageable. the other thing you have to remember on college campuses in the 1960s was the policy of inlocal coparentis. college administrators that stand in for parents.
today we don't think about that at all. college student today we think of as adults in their own right. at that time parents were considered to be substituted for by college administrators. >> what can we learn from this time period and from what offresearched? >> one of the things as it relates to student activists, let's listen to them. we shouldn't trivial lies them, condemn them, and question their motives and whether they have the maturity to actually speak to matters that deeply concern we should we should listen to them. the second thing is the fbi, no matter what you think of it or local law enforcement, no matter what you think of it there to protect us but needs to be mindful of everyone's constitutional rights to speak on matters that engage them and to speak freely and peacefully. and that regardless of of what your views are you have those rights and they cannot be >> abridged. >> i'd be cruise to get your opinion of this. the j. edgar hoover building is the fbi building on pennsylvania
avenue midway between the capitol and white house. some say his name should be taken off the building since all that we've learned since he died in the 1970. any thoughts about that? >> my personal viewsy would not remove his name. i think his name say reminder for all of us of both the one is greater is vifs almost 50 years. but also of these unconstitutional efforts on the part of the fbi. let's remember this. you can't walk into the building without seeing the name and understanding who it's named it's it's an important reminder, the same way that we continue to remember things that are favorable to our history, say the march on washington, martin luther king's dramatic speech there. this this is equally important. removing it i don't think would help further the cause of remembering it. >> to the prism of your own research, what new have you learned about j. edgar hoover and what his fbi did in the 1950 >> i >> i think the thing that stands out about hoover himself particular was how he he was
involved directly with. 'in reading fbi documents, i frequently encountered hoover himself writing on very particular, specific issues about individuals and campuses in jackson, mississippi, saying here's what i suggest we ought i i would have thought that he was too busy for that, that he had other concerns. he's talking to presidents. but he was not too busy to take up the pen and to write to his agents on the ground and say, let's try this to undermine that that individual. that surprised me. >> where do you do your re where where do you go? >> so i have acquired fbi documents through freedom of information act requests. so it was a matter over a period of time of contacting the bureau and requesting documents related to this organization. i can tell you when i started this work it took a long time, i had to wait a long time once i put my request in and was finally contacted by the burrow and said we found 18,000 pages related to the southern student
organizing committee. >> 18,000? >> yeah, it was overwhelming and costly too because as the person who skeeks it i have to pay for the it. the reproduction of the but documents. but through a process of speaking with other scholars and talking to the bureau and figuring out how i can whittle 18,000 down to something more manageable wrars ab manageable, i was able to acquire a large majority of those documents and have them sent to me. one day in my office a box shows up full of redacted fbi documents. >> >> how do you teach this to your students. >> i show it to them pit take the documents and put them on the overhead and i think it's really instructive for them to see what their government at that time was doing. and the times of concerns that the government had and the methods, the mechanisms ever trying to undermined people they consider domestic subversives. people are somewhat taken aback
that the fbi or any law enforcement was doing that type of thing. >> and they're reaction is what? >> it's surprise. it's surprise. and it's deep concern over, wow, i didn't know that. and i juxtapose it as did i at the end of my presentation with a document from august, 2017, from the fbi, a leaked document originally that said we're investigating so-called black identity extremists and their efforts to perhaps violently attack the police. there's no such thing as black identity extremists in 2017 or earlier, but the fbi just as of last year was taking a hard look at what they considered to be people intent on violence. >> two final points. do you have another book in you? >> that's what i think this is going towards. it's part of a larger project which not only addresses the fbi, but what state and local law enforcement was doing. i find particularly fascinating what the police departments around the south were engaged in. so-called so-called red squads, red communists investigations, red squads existed in the '50s,
'60s, and '70s to investigate lusing local resources. that's fascinating to me because then you have the federal level with the fbi, the local with the red squads, it's almost like an interlocking, interweaving web of surveillance. >> how important is this convention as you talk to fellow >> historians. >> this is where we come as scholars to share our work, to hear feedback, to get questions, criticism, as we hone and sharpen our own arguments. so my ability to present to an audience of peers is really invaluable and the type of questions and issues that people raise always helps to sharpen one's own work. >> which is my final question to you. moving ahead. >> yes. >> what are your questions? where do you want to go next? >> i am deeply interested in what, as a next step what the red squads were doing. and why they were doing it and how they justified it. i'm currently working on a particular topic in memphis,
tennessee, martin luther king, we just celebrated the 50 year -- not celebrated, marked the 50 years of his assassination, had a very strong, powerful, and deeply interwoven police department effort to the undermine act so so i'm working on a project in memphis which i think is extraordinarily important and revealing. and and important to me because there are records that survive. and that's not always the case. police departments and memphis was one of them that tried to destroy everything. mayor authorized the destruction of papers. which isn't surprise, right? because the police don't want evidence of illegal activity to surface publicly. and i think that where those records survive, it's important and memphis it one of those >> places. >> and i didn't know that. let me follow up on that point. >> sure. >> when did you learn about this? >> try to make a long story short here, i was in touch with a fellow historian, name is michael honey, he's written very
important books over the years on memphis and is here this he weekend. he was involved in a lawsuit about the spying on student the the student activists in 1975, '76 asked for records about him that the police had. police essentially said, hey, wre we got to get rid of this stuff and the mayor authorized trying to destroy it and they destroyed most of it in the 19 aclu aclu filed a lawsuit, couldn't stop the destruction of the records but a lawsuit went forward and so there's a paper trail there and it led to the first consent to create in the country, first one, an agreement by a police department to say we are not going to engage in ellegal activity, spielg on our citizens. this this as a follow up to that real quick, just last year it's being revisited. there's a there's a new lawsuit in memphis over whether or not the police are still doing the same thing that they were doing in the 1960s and 1970. and the argument now being made as well. technology has come so far, and our threats from domestic and international terrors sore great
we need to update and give the police more latitude to investigate people they deem to be a threat. and that's a lawsuit that's ongoing this day in memphis. >> author, history professor, university of texas at san antonio, gregg michel, thank you very much for stopping by. we appreciate it. >> thank you. coming up, an interview with former philadelphia mayor frank rizzo on concerns of white working-class voters at the time of the civil rights movement. that's fold by a conversation way medical historian researching african americans and eugenics. if you missed any of today's program we'll show it again tonight at 8:00 eastern and you it find it on c-span's library, friday, the world cspan.org. friday, the world war i centennial ceremony and a look at various aspects of the war from discussions at the u.s.
army heritage days. american history tv weekdays continues next week with a look at conspiracy theories in the u.s. on monday. tuesday the life and presidency of andrew jackson. and wednesday, historical interpretations of reconstruction after the civil war. this sunday on oral histories, we continue our series on women in congress with former democratic congresswomen eva clayton. >> my entrance in the agriculture committee, my service in the agriculture committee and even my members' resistance to me. but finally their acceptance of me. and and they did. they did. you know, i earned -- i wasn't on that drafting committee only because i was a ranking member. i was on there also i made a also,
contribution. also, they acceptance of me they equal and many of them the acceptance of me as their superior allowed me to know that i can negotiate with the best of >> them. >> and in the weeks ahead we'll hear from helen bentley, barbara kannelly, nancy johnson and lynn watch watch oral sundays sunday at 10:00 a.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span 3. former philadelphia mayor frank rizzo and the concerns of white working-class voters in the 1970s are the topic of the interview coming up next. american history tv was at the organization of american historians annual meeting in sacramento, california, where we spoke with professor tim tythy lombardo. he he compares pennsylvania politics in the '70s to today's political climate. this is about 20 minutes. >>im